Its Sunday afternoon, and I need a spiritual lift up. I head downtown to an unremarkable side street in New York City's Tribeca area. I enter a warehouse with my arms outstretched waiting for the usher to give me a quick pat down. "It's not often I am frisked before church," I say. He grins and tells me that in the four years they have been doing this weekly Sunday ritual, they have never had a problem. "People come here with a great head," he said, "It's a mellow, positive crowd."
I make my offering ($14) and wind through the corridor into the "sanctuary." From the loud speakers that surround the pulsating space the central theme is proclaimed: "Music is the base of all life. Music is the salvation of all life - Celebrate Life!" People from all walks of life, all ages, all races, raise their hands in the air and cry out with an ecstatic response to the worship leaders in front--the DJ's--giving thanks for the unifying force that brings us back week after week: the music.
Welcome to Body & Soul.
Body & Soul is a weekly dance party in New York City. Frequently described in spiritual terms, B&S is powered by three world-famous DJs: Joe Clausell, Danny Krivit, and Francois-K. Every Sunday afternoon, Body & Soul welcomes 1,100 to 1,200 people who find inspiration in the music, and community in the alcohol-free environment on the dance floor.
"Body & Soul is church for me," Aliya tells me, "a lot of people call it that--church." Aliya Campbell is an actress from Detroit who has been coming to Body & Soul religiously for two years. Raised Muslim, she now rejects organized religion: "I am totally and completely against dogmatic theory. Music is the medium that holds everything together. It's about community, about connecting on a different level. Music brings everyone together by going inside."
Four years ago, founders DJ Francois-K and John Davis proposed the idea for a Sunday afternoon party. "The club owners thought they were crazy," says Joann Davis, part of the Body & Soul crew and the wife of John Davis, "but it caught on. Francois-K and John came up with the name Body and Soul, and it fit. House music has always been about feeling it, sharing the vibe together." The founding members were all raised Catholic, but as Joann says: "The spirituality is in the music. It has nothing to do with organized religion."
There is some organization however. People can join Body & Soul for discounts on entrance fee and no waiting on line. "We had one person buy a membership from Iceland. He was not even able to come to the club, but he wanted to be a member, that is how deep this goes." Later, I meet a couple from London who have made the pilgrimage to the club. "It's my 40th birthday today, I wanted to come to this club on my birthday. When you listen to this music, it is completely spiritually uplifting--awesome."
There is a primal feel to the event, as celebrants literally connect the movement of their bodies to the movement of their souls, allowing one to nurture and complement the other. Nowhere present here is the traditional body=bad and spirit=good dualism found in many organized religions. Both Body and Soul are celebrated.
Ed Gyurko has been attending Body & Soul since its first year. I see him dancing with intense abandon. Raised Catholic, now agnostic, Ed finds spiritual expression in dance. "Dance is a form of release for me. Movement in this inclusive place is like finding a spiritual peace." He excuses himself to dance to a favorite song, and as the music begins to move me I feel a beautiful, exciting peace and connection to the community dancing with me. As my body leads me, I reflect again on my conversation with Aliya. I had asked her if she believes in God? She replied emphatically: "ABSOLUTELY--that's what it is all about. Its about knowing that we as individuals are not so important, but part of a whole--and in knowing that I am not so important, there is the freedom."